For Theology III seminarian Tony Ritter, Kenrick-Glennon Days marked the first time he viewed priests as regular guys who enjoy sports and have fun, not as mystery men who wear robes or act serious all the time.
Same with seminarians David Halfmann, a senior in the Cardinal Glennon College program, and Patrick Russell, a Theology III classmate of Ritter. In fact, former campers among seminarians, whether in college or theology programs, tell similar stories about seeing priests as normal people for the first time and opening their hearts and minds to discern God's calling.
"Primarily, it was just seeing holy, happy men who were trying to follow God's will, and they knew how to have fun," said Ritter, who first attended camp as a middle-school student then returned two years later as a junior counselor while in a public high school. "So often, my impression of being holy was some other-worldly thing. I thought, 'Oh, it'll be weird. They won't play sports; that's too banal, too simple for them.' But they were regular guys; that meant a lot to me."
About 200 young men will experience seminarians and priests in this light at the 2017 edition of Kenrick-Glennon Days, the annual overnight summer camp being held this year June 5-10. They're divided between two groups — rising sixth- and seven-graders for the first session, June 5-7; then rising eighth-graders and freshmen for the second, June 8-10. In addition, more than 40 rising high school sophomores through seniors will serve as junior counselors, each teaming up with a seminarian to lead a group of 10.
Each session consists of two action-packed days of swimming, water Olympics and other fun, outdoor activities, coupled with Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, confessions, prayer and more.
Prayer time made as much of an impression on Ritter and others as fun time did.
"It was an opportunity to be close to the Lord and just to spend time with Jesus in the chapel," said Ritter, who called it a "joy" to pray the Divine Office with seminarians. "Even though I was confused at times and didn't know what we were doing, it was great to be there. 'Hey, look, guys pray. It's cool.'"
Outdoor activities are cool as well, particularly the water Olympics. The campers vie for the coveted Archbishop's Cup, which is overflowing with candy when presented to the winner. Events involve basically anything involving water, relay races down slick hills, using fingers to plug holes in PVC pipes or buckets, or a water slide.
"Just to get messy and have fun," Russell said, with a laugh. "The whole point of (Kenrick-Glennon Days) is to show young men in the archdiocese that the seminary is a real place. It's not a myth. It's not a scary castle. It's a real place where real men come to lay down their life for God, and part of that means having fun and getting messy."
Russell has been a regular at Kenrick-Glennon Days since he first attended as a rising sixth-grader at St. Norbert School in Florissant. Kenrick-Glennon Days became "a staple" of his summer while in high school, first at De Smet Jesuit then at Duchesne, from which he graduated in 2010.
"I loved it; I went year after year, and the seminary became part of my life," he said. "Eventually that led me to go to other retreats put on by the seminary. It opened my heart to hear God's voice within the these walls; the gentle voice of God called me back to the seminary year after year."
When Russell served as a junior counselor, Halfmann was among the campers. Then, Russell was a seminarian when Halfmann was a junior counselor. Now, they're both seminarians, being "ambassadors for Christ" as Halfmann says, regular guys and role models for the campers, perhaps future seminarians like themselves.
Their mission is simple: to display the joy of priestly formation as regular guys who appreciate the fun times.
"There's this kind of stigma, even nowadays, that (seminarians) are just holy people who keep their heads down and pray all the time," said Halfmann, a graduate of St. Joseph of Imperial and St. Pius X High School. "Through these camps, through a ministry of presence, we're able to show and give witness that seminarians and priests aren't random people with hooded robes that pray all the time. We like to have fun."
What • Summer camp for rising-sixth-grade through rising-freshman boys; two action-packed days of swimming, water Olympics, games, Mass, confession, prayer and more to introduce them to seminary life
When • Session I: rising sixth- and seven-graders, 3 p.m. Monday, June 5 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 7; Session 2: rising eighth-graders and freshmen, 3 p.m. Thursday, June 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday, June 10.
Why • To help young men think about what God wants to do in their lives
Cost • $100
Information/registration • visit www.stlouisreview.com/bM1 or contact Renae Novak at firstname.lastname@example.org or (314) 792-6465
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